Perhaps this is an apt time to have a fresh look at China, this enormously vibrant, supremely productive country, when our fickle attention is focused on the annual ritual of events at the United Nations and the momentous awakening of Arabs in the unfolding of their revolution at the same time as the world is mired in economic choppy waters. The world is well placed to seriously evaluate China, for her history of involvement in the developing world is profound and well documented, and to look at China is to see a country teeming with visionaries, entrepreneurs, pioneers and who are resilient, friendly, approachable and inherently decent.
One of the yardsticks by which a country is measured, or seen to have arrived on the big stage is when certain media corporations, which hitherto were known more for their lukewarm response to newsworthy items emanating from that country, start highlighting even mundane news stories on a regular basis. The British Broadcasting Corporation has gone one step further and recently broadcast “special programmes on China titled The Chinese Are Coming” referring to her economic superpower standing and how it impacts the rest of the world. All across the world formerly hostile news media are reluctantly showcasing China because, like it or not, China makes news. When an 800 pounds gorilla comes into the room everybody takes notice just as surely as every jungle animal is hyper aware when the king of beast arrives on the scene.
So what is it about China that makes it grab the world’s headlines with such frequency and intensity? Here one could quote the things you would find in any encyclopedia entry on China but that would tell only part of the story, important though that is, and a lot of perceptions, equally important, would be excluded. China is vastly more than the country that invented paper-making, the compass, printing and gunpowder as well as a raft of ancient technologies for she has stellar achievements across all ranges of human endeavor and can boast of the greatest thinker and social philosopher of his day and perhaps of the ages; none other than Confucius.
First and foremost it must be remembered that China is a developing nation and shall retain that status for some time to come. From the time of her hard-fought liberation in 1949 she has grappled with national development virtually unaided and has majestically and methodically elevated herself to the pinnacle as the most important country in the world economically. China is the stable rock on which the financial world stands and if she looses confidence in the US dollar, and dumps her holding in disgust, then the dollar collapses and the world is plunged into financial cataclysm worse even than the great depression. The world is hyper-conscious that China does not need the US dollar but the US dollar mightily and desperately needs China. All of this from a country that has not yet hit full stride, in fact has just got started, and will outstrip the USA in a few short years on the way to an economy with a GDP far in excess of the European Union and the USA combined.
The next thing that must be remembered is that across the vast majority of the world China is viewed as benevolent. Big, powerful countries, especially those from Europe, are seen as predators, exploiters/abusers, manipulators with a penchant for arrogance and colonialism. Not so the Chinese. Every country in the world where China is welcomed as a partner she has shown that she is unlike the stereotypical colonist and offers instead sincere compassion and significant generosity. Not only is this true here for the small sovereign countries in the Caribbean, who are eternally grateful for China’s no-strings-attached assistance, it is even truer in Africa where China has excelled in undertaking many huge and diverse development projects.
Let me give a few examples. China built the 1,100 mile railway from Tanzania to Zambia in 1970-75 (The TAZARA Railway) a project she financed and executed herself. She built The Cairo International Conference Center covering a floor space of 58,000 sq m and hosts more than a hundred international meetings and exhibitions each year, promoting the development of local business and tourism. She is building, as a gift to Africa, The Convention Center of the African Union in Ethiopia, a magnificent structure in Addis Abba. She is also building dams in eight African countries, Sudan, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, Gabon and the Republic of Congo as well as other large projects that include the Belet Uen-Burao Highway in Somalia, the Friendship Harbor in Mauritania, the Mashta al Anad-Ben Jarw Canal in Tunisia, and the National Stadium in Tanzania as well as over 500 infrastructure projects across the length and breadth of Africa.
Not only is China seen as a benevolent collaborator, she is highly regarded as a peaceful, non-militaristic, non-interfering partner that draws the ire of Old Europe and her allies but is embraced and loved by every country in Africa, and to some extent the Caribbean and South America as well as the people (as opposed to their governments) of the developed world. It is this magnificent attitude, that China will not interfere or become entangled in the internal politics of other countries, that sets China apart from all others and has earned her this sobriquet; enigmatic. Should she be so inclined China could effect regime change anywhere for she certainly has the finances and power to do so but that is not her style. China prefers, and this seems to be an indispensible part of her political philosophy to let “the people” choose whomever thy want and stand ready to give assistance if requested. This attitude creates win-win situations universally and, like a well-loved uncle, is welcomed and embraced joyfully.
The world has long wanted, perhaps even deserved, a country like China; big and powerful that can deliver yet is decent, compassionate and generous and willing to reach out and help fellow human beings merely because doing so, in the Confucian sense, is the honourable thing to do. Six thousand years of unbroken history has taught the Chinese wisdom of the ages, the diplomatic skills of genius and the foresight to see beyond the short term and to conceptualize and prepare to lead the world in a new and different direction. As China rise so does the quality and volume of civility, benevolence and good-neighbourliness correspondingly increase. This benighted world can never have too much of those. When we add all these crucial things together we see that they are necessary but are they sufficient to elevate China to the pantheon of Great World Empires and propel it forward, sustainably, for countless generations? I think not.
It is fashionable in some quarters when enumerating Great World Empires to list a whole host of countries who called themselves great and often have the word “Great” appended to their national identity. This habit is outmoded as well as disingenuous and history will show that the vast majority of these countries were merely dominant and hegemonic in certain regions while at the same time other countries were equally dominant and hegemonic in other regions. The British Empire was contemporary with the French Empire and the Japanese Empire for example; the American dominance in the West was matched by the Soviet Union dominance in the East, etc. Great World Empires are very different entities, dominating their world without effective rivalry and there have been precious few of them; the last being Rome.
The head of Gold (of the large statue) of Daniel’s prophecy, as recorded in the Holy Bible, represented the Babylonian empire which history records ruled much of the then known world from 612 BC to 539 BC. Babylon was located in the southern part of modern day Iraq and was a state since 1850 BC and is mentioned in Genesis 10:10 as Erech but did not assume world dominance until 612 BC under Nebuchadnezzar.
The arms and breast of silver represented the conjoined kingdoms of two people: the Medes of northern Persia and the ethnic Persians down south, together referred to as Medio-Persia, and this empire defeated and overthrew the Babylonians and ruled much of the then known world from 539 BC to 333 BC. Present day Iranians are the Persians of old.
The belly and thigh represented Greece which came to world supremacy under Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and ruled much of the then known world from 333 BC to 133 BC after he overthrew the Persian empire. The Greek language remained dominant long after it ceased to be a world empire to the extent that the New Testament was originally written in Greek and the Apostles understood and spoke Greek.
The legs and feet represented Rome who assumed world dominance in 133 BC after the last king of Pergamum left his lands to the Romans and they remained dominant until around AD 476 when they disintegrated as an empire but continued to dominate in the East until about AD 1453. Should you study history carefully you will see that not only were these kingdoms Great World Empires but they exacted loyalty and taxes and other forms of support from countries everywhere and they coerced countries to toe the line through the appointment of provincial governors and military commanders.
Today the world is very different and no country has succeeded and assumed the mantle of Great World Empire, and perhaps never will; hence the look at China.
All the Great World Empires gave leadership universally and were dominant militarily, culturally, economically and above all in the field of religion.
With respect to China, that seems destined to be the next Great World Empire, military dominance is not necessary because of the advent of weapons of mass destruction especially nuclear weapons. Cultural dominance is a function of time and publicity and China is already an economic super-power, well on its way to economic supremacy. This leaves one very important area unattended; China’s attitude to religion and especially Christianity.
China learns quickly and it learns well and we can be sure that China is au fait with two seminal moments in history; the resurgence of dynamic Christianity in a prosperous Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the centrality of Rome in religious affairs following the issue of the Edict of Milan.
As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 all the former 15 republics reverted to their former religious affiliation and in Russia this was symbolized by renaming Stalingrad to St. Petersburg in honour of St Peter and their reassertion of Christian values. You cannot kill Christianity just like you cannot kill love nor abolish courage or decency. Some things will be and it is best to accommodate them. This is precisely what the Roman Empire did in 313 AD by not just officially tolerating Christianity but laying the foundation for it becoming the religion of the Romans. This the Romans did when they published the decree known as the Edict of Milan in March 313 AD and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Friends and admirers of China everywhere would like to see China take the world forward in a new and different direction and enhance its reputation as a caring, benevolent super-power. One mighty step in this direction would be for China to issue a proclamation equivalent to the Edict of Milan. This edict, let us call it the Edict of Beijing, would commend Christianity to its people, adopt it as the religion for the Communist Party of China and support its propagation to make it the unified religion of China.
The big question here is even if China has the will is it attainable? My answer is assuredly yes and here are my reasons for my saying so.
1. Chinese communism and Christianity have much in common and the early church practiced communism because it was the best system to care for the assemblies and give each other mutual support.
2. Christianity, just like Chinese communism, is people centred as opposed to corporations oriented, and everywhere it extols the value of the individual based no doubt on the words of Jesus, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)
3. The benefits to China would be vast. Europe is being spoken of as post-Christian; the USA is rapidly retrenching Christianity with Christianity being ripped out of all official programmes, events and functions. Dynamic Christianity is rising everywhere in Africa and needs accommodation. The third millennium Christianity needs sustained focus, direction and leadership.
4. Christianity has a problem with the Vatican that stretches back to the Reformation and beyond and is exacerbated by contemporary horrific sex scandals surrounding their priests. The Edict of Beijing will move the epicenter of Christianity from Rome to Beijing and should China officially adopt Christianity then its leader will become de facto leader of the world’s Christian community in much the same way as the Queen of England is the ex officio head of the Church of England.
5. China already does many things that are compatible with Christianity and has the potential to establish a new paradigm between autocephalous bodies. Right now in China churches’ denominational labels are being set aside as Christians are worshipping in unified assemblies under the umbrella of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council.
6. When the Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan it resulted in public order being restored and a country more at ease with itself and its people living in national harmony. It did not mean that everyone accepted Christianity, Emperor Constantine himself did not get baptized until he was on his death bed, but it enabled Christians to live normal lives and undertake their patriotic duties without fear.
7. The issuing of the Edict of Milan raised the moral tone of Roman society, helped Roman legislation become more just and transparently equitable and caused women generally to be treated with more dignity and respect.
China’s leadership must be delighted that at long last their country, doing what it has always done so well, i.e. peacefully pursue developmental goals for the benefit of its entire people and by association the world beyond its borders, has been thrust on the international stage, given the recognition its due and entrusted with the baton to move the world on to the next stage. It is unthinkable that China will not seize the moment and realize its enormous potential for the benefit of all mankind. War and messy politics gave the Soviet Union their super-power status; War and European rivalries gave the USA the opportunity to acquire their super-power status; the West’s decadence, economic mismanagement and financial recklessness ushered in China’s super-power status. Take the baton and run China, and run smart and fast like Usain Bolt, for you are running not just for China, however patriotic that might be, or your Asian neighbours however laudable an aim that undoubtedly would be but for my, unborn as yet, great-great-grandchildren and their counterparts across the entire planet earth..
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